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How Do I Pick Between Colleges?

Apr 6, 2021

Congratulations! If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because your hard work has paid off, and you’ve been accepted to more than one of the schools you applied to! We know that choosing between the schools to which you’ve been accepted can feel a bit overwhelming, especially if you do not have one clear favorite among your acceptances. Choosing where to go to college is, after all, a very important decision, so giving yourself some time to think about where you will spend your next four years is crucial. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with the ten most important factors to consider in your college conundrum!

College Decision Factors

  1. Major/Minor Options – It might seem obvious at first, but researching the majors and minors offered by potential colleges can serve as a great starting point to make your decision. Colleges can vary substantially in their academic offerings, and specific degrees like Marine Biology or Aerospace Engineering will not be offered by every school. Additionally, many colleges have specialized, niche programs that could offer you much more support in unique fields of study. Finally, consider whether you want to start taking classes for your degree right away or if you’d like to attend a college with a “core” that will offer you a bit more time to explore various subjects.
  2. Distance from Home – How important is the ability to easily go home for a weekend to you? Will you have to fly home for holidays and family visits or will you be able to drive? Some students may intentionally attend college far from home to push themselves to become independent or branch out from their established friend group back home, but others may prefer the familiarity offered by attending a college within a few hours of their hometown.
  3. Location – Your college’s location will have far more impact on your life as a student than you might initially realize. A school located in or right next to a large city will have a much different feel and offer different social experiences than a college town. Weather may not be a factor in some students’ decisions, but you should be prepared for the reality of harsh winters or boiling summers. It is very reasonable to consider weather as a factor if you have noticed it plays a large role in your happiness and wellbeing. Most importantly, the location of your college will likely determine where you establish connections and roots over the next four years. Internship opportunities and, when it comes time, full time jobs, will often be easier to find close to your college thanks to your school’s connections to companies in the area.
  4. Money/Scholarships – It is important to consider the cost of the college you’re planning to attend. If you and/or your family will have difficulty paying the steep price of an elite college, you should weigh the different financial aid packages offered by the competing colleges to which you have been accepted. You might also receive merit or athletic scholarships from one school that another school does not offer. While not as fun as the other factors, the financial ramifications of attending each of the colleges on your list should be strongly considered, particularly if they will pose a serious burden on you and/or your family.
  5. Resources/Opportunities – While the location of a college matters for internships and establishing connections, the resources and opportunities available to you could vary wildly between colleges in the same area. Study abroad options, pre-professional programs, a strong career advising department, and excellent connections through an alumni network are important factors you should consider when deciding between colleges. Every college will claim to have the best resources available, so it’s especially important to research each school’s specific resources and understand the differences between your options.
  6. Prestige/Reputation – Many students and parents become hyper-focused on this factor, but it is absolutely an important consideration. The prestige and reputation of a top college can open doors for you in the years to come. In addition with the college’s primary ranking, check to see how programs that you’re interested in attending are ranked. A school that might not be as prestigious in your eyes may actually be extremely well ranked in a specific field like business or engineering.
  7. Clubs/Sports/Activities – College is not all about academics and your career, it’s also a fun time to explore your interests! While every college will offer various clubs and activities, it is always worth it to check out each school’s clubs to see how you could continue to pursue your interests or find a new one. An avid outdoorsman might want to look into the hiking or adventure club, for example. While official student-athletes may want to consider playing at their level of competition (DI-DIII), students who want to continue their sport in a less competitive manner may want to research the club or intramural options a school offers. When trying to decide between very similar colleges, the different opportunities to pursue your passions and interests can act as excellent tiebreakers!
  8. Size – The size of a student body will play a large role in your social life and academic experience. Smaller colleges will have far more intimate and tight-knit communities, while larger schools offer the opportunity to meet new people constantly. Smaller colleges are often able to offer small class sizes, but larger schools will provide a larger network once you’re out of college. While it can be hard to know which experience you prefer, comparing your own high school’s size and student body with your potential schools’ student populations can offer some insight into what a larger/smaller college might look like.
  9. Students/Student Life – This factor generally requires visiting the college itself, but talking to current and prospective students can offer a glimpse into what kinds of people you’ll be surrounding yourself with over the next four years. While it may be impossible to judge with any hard data, connecting and liking the students you interact with is an essential factor when making your decision. Additionally, ask current students what they do for fun on campus and find out what the social scene is like. Even if you’re convinced that only the academics and prestige of a school matter, asking yourself where you would be the happiest socially can help you break a tie between similar colleges.
  10. Campus – Touring a college campus is a pretty incredible experience. The libraries, academic halls, dining rooms, dorms, gyms, and student centers are often massive and beautiful. Despite almost all college campuses being impressive, sometimes you will just feel more at home on one campus than another. Take the time to talk to students and thoroughly explore the campus, including some of the restaurants and hangout spots for students. If you’re still deadlocked in your decision, trust your gut when you’re at the college and ask yourself how being there makes you feel.

Our Advice

The best way to find out how much you like a college is to go visit it in person! Visiting the campus, and talking to students offers valuable insight into what life there would be like. If you do go to a college campus but tours are not available, try speaking with students on the quad (while respecting their space)! Some colleges also offer overnight options for admitted students, which will give you the opportunity to stay with current students and experience what it’s like to attend the college. If these options are available to you, we highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities

If these in-person options are not available to you, there are still plenty of ways to make an informed decision. While you may have already done quite a bit of research back when you were deciding which colleges to apply to, now is the time to further research each potential school. Websites like Campusreel, and each college’s official website offer a look at students’ daily lives and available resources. If the school has an admitted students’ social media group, join and reach out to other prospective students. While it’s not the same as meeting people in person, the social media groups offer a look into your potential classmates. Try asking if anyone in your family or friend group knows a current student or alumni that they could connect you with over social media, text, or email! While it may seem intimidating, many college students will happily talk to you for a few minutes about what they like/dislike about the school and answer your questions.

Ultimately, picking a college is super subjective, and sometimes you just have to pick the place that feels like home if you can’t decide based on what checks the most boxes on your list. Remember that you will most likely love your college experience no matter where you choose to go, and that the experience can be fantastic in totally different ways! Try not to let others sway you too much and trust your instinct!

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